Sunday Notes: Austin Wells Wants To Catch For the Yankees


Austin Wells is well-regarded, albeit with a lot to prove on the defensive side of the ball. There’s little doubt that he can mash. No. 15 on our recently-released New York Yankees Top Prospects list, Wells went deep 16 times in 469 plate appearances last year between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. His left-handed stroke produced a solid .264/.390/.476 slash line, while his wRC+ was an every-bit-as-sturdy 135.

Wells is built to bash — he packs 220 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame — and his size is also befits a backstop. That’s what he wants to be. Asked about his positional future during his stint in the Arizona Fall League, Wells shared that he’s caught since he was six years old, and plans to continue doing so. Since being drafted 28th-overall in 2020 out of the University of Arizona, all 70 of his defensive games have been spent behind behind the dish. Moreover, “there haven’t been any conversations about playing anywhere else.”

Wells was preparing to play in the Fall Stars Game when I caught up to him, and the first thing I wanted to address were the nuances of his craft. I began by asking what role analytics play for a young, minor-league catcher.

“For the Yankees, it’s primarily receiving and framing,” responded Wells, whom many scouts feel will ultimately become an outfielder. “What we look at is extra strikes gained. They give us the data after every game. Our catching coaches at every level have access to it, so when the report comes out, we’ll go over it: balls, strikes, good moves, bad moves. Stuff like that.”

Wells explained that working low-to-high is an important component of framing, adding that the object is to “be on time to meet it at the spot and make it look like a strike.” The Yankees refer to that movement as “layering a pitch.”

But again, his current strength is laying waste to pitches. Which isn’t to say he profiles as simply a slugger. Wells put up an eye-popping .476 OBP in college, and the strike-zone awareness comes with a gap-to-gap approach that helped produce 23 doubles and five triples this season. He also has wheels, as evidenced by his having swiped 16 bases without being caught. A plodder he’s not.

He aspired to be a Yankee.

“I didn’t have any spots, just a feeling that it was going to be towards the back half of the first round,” Wells said when recalling his draft experience. “It lined up to be that the Yankees wanted me, and I wanted to be with them, so it worked out perfectly.”

Wells acknowledged having had draft-day conversations with other teams before the Yankees called his name. As tempting as the offers may have been, they didn’t quite match up with his desires.

“It was kind of where I wanted to be, versus not wanting to be,” explained Wells. “The Yankees were perfect at that spot for what we wanted. It’s a great organization.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

J.T. Snow went 0 for 6 against David Weathers.

Urban Shocker went 1 for 2 against Shovel Hodge.

Ron Northey went 2 for 4 against Windy McCall.

Mike Easler went 10 for 18 against Storm Davis.

Doc Powers went 4 for 39 against George Winter.

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Kody Clemens is a 25-year-old infielder who came in at No. 21 on our recently-released Detroit Tigers Top Prospect list. He’s also the son of should-be Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, and as you might expect, he fields no small share of questions about his famous father. I had one of my own when I spoke to him over the phone earlier this month: Does he ever tell you how good of a hitter he was?

“Oh, yeah, he jokes about it all the time,” responded the younger Clemens. “He was something like 2-for-6 one year, and he had them send him a Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award, which he has in his office. It’s hilarious. He never hit a home run, but he’ll talk about how he hit a ball off the top of the wall at Coors Field, and was winded running into second base because of the altitude. He was solid at the plate, though. He got his bunts down.”

Considering the circumstances, Clemens was actually a chunk better than solid. Playing his first 20 seasons in the American League, he logged just 24 plate appearances before his 41st birthday, going a respectable 4-for-20 over that span.

Clemens subsequently moved to the National League, where he proceeded to post a .166 batting average. That number isn’t notable. What is notable is that he recorded 27 hits. Remarkably, Clemens logged 87 percent of his 31 career hits after his 41st birthday. There was even some icing on the cake: the seven-time Cy Young Award winner had a two-hit game against Greg Maddux.

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Blake Butera managed Taj Bradley in Low-A this summer, and he offered high praise for the 20-year-old right-hander when appearing as a guest on this Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen someone perform, the time that we had him in Charleston,” said Butera, who has coached and managed in the Tampa Bay Rays system for the past five seasons. “He dominated from start to finish, until he went up to High-A. And he continued to do that in High-A. It’s hard to put a comparison on a guy like that, with what he did, but the fastball is big. It’s 95 to 98 [and] he maintains it for five, six innings with little effort.”

Butera went on to say that the organization is especially proud of the improvement Bradley has made with his changeup, an offering that Charleston pitching coach RC Lichtenstein helped the youngster refine. As Butera put it, Bradley’s “future is extremely bright.”

Ranked by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in the Rays system — our own list is forthcoming — Bradley went 12-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 103-and-a-third innings between Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. If you’re interested in hearing directly from Bradley, he and Bowling Green broadcaster Shawn Murnin were co-guests on FanGraphs Audio this past August.

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A quiz:

Which team has stolen the most bases in the modern era (since 1901)?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Gordon Beckham announced his retirement this week. Drafted eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox in 2008 out of the University of Georgia, the 35-year-old infielder went on to play with eight teams over eleven big-league seasons. Beckham was last featured here at FanGraphs in a March 2018 Sunday Notes column.

Terry Puhl and Tal Smith have been elected to the Houston Astros Hall of Fame. Smith spent three-plus decades as an Astros executive, twice serving as the team’s general manager. Puhl spent 14 seasons as an Astros outfielder, and his 1,516 games played are fifth-most in franchise history.

The Toronto Blue Jays have promoted Mike Murov to assistant general manager. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Murov had served as the team’s director of baseball operations for the past six years.

Gene Clines, an outfielder for four teams — most notably the Pittsburgh Pirates — from 1970-1979, died this week at age 75. Clines was part of MLB’s first all-minority lineup with the Pirates in 1971.

Ethan Blackaby, an outfielder who got cups of coffee with the Milwaukee Braves in 1962 and 1964, died earlier this month at age 81. His father, Inmon Blackaby, played for the American Football League’s Cincinnati Bengals in the 1930s.

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The answer to the quiz is the Cincinnati Reds, with 13,458 stolen bases. The Chicago White Sox are second, with 13,340. The St. Louis Cardinals are third, with 12,922.

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Who was better, Don Mattingly or John Olerud? What about Carlos Beltrán or Andruw Jones? I asked both of those questions in Twitter polls this week, and I did so with forthcoming Hall of Fame elections in mind. Beltrán, a first-time candidate, and Jones, a returning candidate, will be on next year’s BBWAA ballot. Mattingly and Olerud are strong possibilities to be on the docket when the Modern Era committee makes its selections in December 2023.

These were the results of my polls:

Beltrán 53.2%, Jones 46.8%
Olerud 54%, Mattingly 46%.

The relatively narrow margins are reflected in the WAR totals for the first pairing: Beltrán had 67.9, while Jones was close behind with 67.0. The second pairing isn’t nearly as close: Olerud 57.3, Mattingly 40.7.

What those totals will, or should, mean in future Hall of Fame elections is a matter of conjecture. Far more than WAR goes into determining whether a player is deemed worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown, and as we’ve come to know all too well, it’s also not just the batting averages, home runs, or any number of other stats. Fame and infamy have both become outsized components.

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David Ortiz being elected to the Hall of Fame was a sigh-inducing reminder to Twins fans that the storied slugger signed with the Red Sox in January 2003 after being released by Minnesota a month earlier. It’s a big what-if, but far from the only one when you look at the ballot. Ortiz was originally signed as an international free agent by the Seattle Mariners, while most of the other nominees were selected in the amateur draft. With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, who went first overall to Seattle in 1993, all could have at least begun their careers with another team.

With that in mind, let’s look at where the top vote-getters would have started out had they been selected one pick earlier in their respective draft years. The teams, and the players who were selected instead, are as follows:

Barry Bonds: White Sox (Kurt Brown)
Roger Clemens: Dodgers (Erik Sonberg)
Scott Rolen: Angels (Ryan Hancock)
Curt Schilling: Padres (Brian Wood)
Todd Helton: Rangers (Jonathan Johnson)
Billy Wagner: Indians (Daron Kirkreit)
Andruw Jones: (NA)
Gary Sheffield: Braves (Kent Mercker)
Alex Rodriguez: (NA)
Jeff Kent: Pirates (Jeff McCurry)
Manny Ramirez: Cubs (Doug Glanville)

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccillieri wrote about how Carlos Beltrán’s eligibility will present a new ethical dilemma for Hall of Fame voters.

At Our Esquina, Manuel Gómez wrote about how Andrea Nuñez — the first Latina strength and conditioning coach in MLB history — aims to inspire women to chase their baseball dreams.

At Baseball America, Matt Obernaur opined that baseball’s next competitive advantage isn’t analytics; it’s culture.

Lookout Landing’s Kate Preusser addressed a report out of Japan that suggested the Seattle Mariners are among the favorites to sign Seiya Suzuki.

Jasmine Dunston, the 31-year-old daughter of longtime big-league infielder Shawon Dunston, is the director of minor-league operations for the White Sox. Daryl Van Schouwen wrote about her for The Chicago Sun-Times.

The Boston Red Sox inked Steve Avery to a free agent contract in January 1997. Matt Collins looked back at the signing for Over the Monster.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Sandy Koufax went 36-40 with a 100 ERA+ through his age-24 season.
Julio Urías is 32-10 with a 134 ERA+ through his age-24 season.

Rusty Staub played in 2,951 games. His team lost 1,633 of them, the most for any
player in MLB history.

Pete Rose played in 3,562 games. His team won 1,972 of them, the most for any
player in MLB history. Rose’s games-played total is also a record.

Pokey Reese stole 144 bases and was caught 26 times.
Chili Davis stole 142 bases and was caught 98 times.

Evan Gattis played six big-league seasons and hit hit 12 triples. He had 11 triples in 2015.

In 1938, Bill Dickey hit 23 of his 27 round-trippers at home. In 1963, Leon Wagner hit 24 of his 26 round-trippers on the road.

Rube Vickers had 22 big-league wins, and the first two came on the same day. Pitching in both ends of a double-header for the Philadelphia A’s on October 5, 1907, the right-hander from Hillsdale, Michigan went 11-and-third scoreless relief innings in the opener, then started and threw five perfect innings in the nightcap.

The Atlanta Braves signed Deion Sanders to a free agent contract on today’s date in 1991. Released by the New York Yankees four months earlier, “Neon Deion” went on to have his best season in 1992 when he swiped 26 bases, led the senior circuit with 14 triples, and put up a career-high 136 wRC+. He also led the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in kick-return yards and made the second of his eight Pro Bowls.

Players born on today’s date include Walt Dropo, who won Rookie of the Year honors with the Boston Red Sox in 1950 after logging a junior circuit-best 144 RBIs as a 27-year-old first baseman. The Moosup, Connecticut native was subsequently traded to the Detroit Tigers in June 1952, and a month later tied a big-league record by recording hits in 12 consecutive plate appearances.

Also born on today’s was Harry Dooms, whose career comprised one game for the National League’s Louisville Colonels in 1892. Seven years later, Dooms died in his hometown of St. Louis at age 32.



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